Bigger public piers could be coming to the coast if legislation introduced by a Surfside Beach representative is passed.
Current legislation only allows piers that stood before Hurricane Hugo to be rebuilt to original dimensions, but a change proposed by S.C. Rep. Nelson Hardwick, R-Surfside Beach, would allow coastal governments, not the state environmental agency, to approve new pier construction.
Hardwick said he proposed the legislation partly in response to the town of Surfside Beach's inability to get approval for an entertainment deck to be built on its existing pier.
The town had hoped to add about 1,000 square feet to the west side of the town's existing pier for an entertainment deck.
The town began constructing the structure without the correct Department of Health and Environmental Control permits and when it began going through the process was told it could only build a structure that was 144 square feet.
But Hardwick said he was under the impression that the 144-square-foot limit was on individual floating decks for someone's personal use and now is looking to change the legislation to allow expansions onto public piers, so long as they are approved by the local government's planning and zoning boards.
"When you have public use you might want to have a bigger deck," he said. He also said he thinks that "the local government, who's closer to the public, has a right to say what's appropriate and what's not appropriate."
The legislation, currently working its way through the Agriculture,Natural Resources & Environmental Affairs committee that Hardwick leads, is being sponsored by 10 coastal representatives and three committee members.
Rep. Kevin Ryan, R-Georgetown, said he signed on to sponsor the legislation because he thinks the decision would give more power to local governments.
"I'm all about allowing local governing bodies to make these decisions," he said. "What we're saying is that it's something that should be a local decision."
But the S.C. Coastal Conservation League is concerned about the environmental impact the legislation could have.
"We need to protect our coastline, not to harden it further," said Nancy Cave, the north coast director for the league.
She said building new and larger piers could change the coast.
"In the building of the pier it has a significant effect on the shoreline," she said. "And any kind of structure has some kind of impact on flow."
She said there is also the potential for pollution since the piers could include restaurants and bait and tackle shops.
"We certainly are very concerned about this," she said. " We do not feel this is in the best interest of our coastline."
A DHEC Committee on Shoreline Management should be presenting its ideas for regulatory recommendations sometime this year, Cave said.
She said she feels it is "unfortunate that a bill like this would be filed when they haven't even had a chance to make their recommendations."
The two members of the shoreline committee are also S.C. House members. Rep. Tracy Edge, R-North Myrtle Beach, and Rep. William Herbkersman, R-Bluffton, have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill.
Edge and Herbkersman couldn't be reached for comment.
Daniel Burger, spokesman for DHEC's Ocean and Coastal Resource Management division, said the agency is looking into the proposed legislation but he could not comment on it yet.
Hardwick said he is hoping to start a conversation about the regulations.
"I have asked everybody to look into it. We will have the opportunity to discuss if it should be done locally or if DHEC will continue to manage it," he said.
He said he is concerned that with the current DHEC process, the wishes of the local residents are not being considered.
"We just need to make sure that the public is being represented in the permitting process," he said.
It is unclear when the bill will be brought to a vote.